Growing the Writer Within

In the Spring of 2011 Ruth Folit invited me to do something I had never done before: lead an online writing practice group. Ruth is the designer/producer of LifeJournal, journal software and the founder/director of the International Association for Journal Writing. Our writing practice sessions aren’t really “online,” they’re more “live chat” with participants from across the country and anywhere in the world connecting via phone or Skype. Following is a blog Ruth posted at IAJW‘s site, which she graciously allowed me to repost as a guest blog.

Online Writing Practice—Growing the Writer Within

A couple of days ago was the first of a handful of Wednesdays with Judy Reeves in what’s known as an Online Writing Practice.  It’s an hour of time spent, mid-day, with a writers of any shape, size, age, gender, or level of experience.

I can imagine that the process does sound odd—people on the phone writing separately, yet together, in response to a Continue reading

20 Ways to Make It Better (#3)

#3 Get It Down

Just Write Board Game

The most important thing about writing? Writing. Getting the words on the page. How to do it? Keep your pen moving. Or your fingers dancing on those keys. Never mind if you don’t know where you’re going. Just go. If you trust yourself and the process, what you want to write will show up on the page. Not in its final form, not all polished and pretty and ready for glory, but somewhere within the mess you made will be that image, that phrase, that line of dialogue. What you’d never come up with if you’d tried to “think” it on the page.

Begin anywhere. Write anything. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. You can clean it up later. Don’t stop to re-read or edit or fix. When you do, you move from that white-hot place of intuition and imagination and into a cerebral place of judging, evaluating, analyzing. There’s a time and place for that, but not in the first flush of creating. One of the advantages of keeping the hand moving is that you can keep ahead of the editor, the critic, and the censor. And maybe, if you’re very lucky and very fast, you can even outpace your ego.

There are dozens of methods to just getting it down: timed, focused writings; free-writes; writing in group; writing against deadline. Try setting up word counts or pages or time limits for yourself, make writing dates with someone else, or with yourself (put it on your calendar — in ink). Use writing prompts or writing exercises to get started (I know a great book that has a prompt for every day). Get writing assignments from someone else, or from any number of writing books. (My current favs are Naming the World, Now Write!, What If?, and Abigail Thomas’s Thinking About Memoir.) Having someone else — a coach, a writing buddy, a writing group, to report in to can help, too. Making bets, giving yourself rewards, bribery. I do some of all of these. (I especially like the rewards part.) Find out what works for you and then, as the saying goes, Just Do It!

What’s your best bet for just getting it down?


A Walk Around Green Lake

"A Week of Walks Around Green Lake" by Jane LaFazio

Many years ago my friend Dian wrote a story titled “Around Green Lake,” about a woman who was contemplating suicide. The character walked around Seattle’s Green Lake thinking about her life and her desperate situation. Around and around the lake she went, thinking and thinking. The story got longer and longer as the character remembered more episodes from her life. In revise after revise, around and around the lake she went, until finally the story got to be a metaphor among our writing group for the whole rewriting process.

“I’m going around Green Lake again,” we’d say at our meetings, meaning, I’m still working on that same story. We’d bring page after reworked page to the group, every rewrite becoming more tortured as we each went around our own Green Lakes. Seasons changed, rains came, leaves fell. The occasional snowfall or ice storm, but each of us inexperienced writers continued slogging the well-worn path of our stories, revision after revision, in our futile attempts to make them “perfect.”

Ultimately some of these stories did die – euthanasia we said, rather than suicide. We figured it was more humane to kill them gently and with love, than to continue in our attempts to keep them alive with false metaphors, contrived plots, stilted characterizations. And, remarkably, some of those stories did survive, did get better. A few even saw publication, or at least a submission or two.

Looking back, these long, repeated trips around Green Lake weren’t wasted; they were important journeys in our writing and in our lives.

We learned to be patient with ourselves and with our writing, to occasionally stop and look up from the path and notice how the light fell through the trees. We learned to look at our work both close up—word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence—and from great distances. We learned to ask questions and to accept honest, thoughtful critique. We learned not to give up too soon, but to know when to stop, too, and to put a story away for awhile—weeks, months, and in some cases, years, until we could look at it with fresh eyes. This is how we learn to be writers. By writing. And by rewriting.

Dian Greenwood and friend

I don’t know what ever happened to Dian’s story about Green Lake. Serendipitously at an art exhibit one year, I came upon a lovely mixed media piece by artist Jane LaFazio titled, “A Week’s Walk Around Green Lake,” and purchased a print for Dian. It hangs in her writing room. (You can see more of Jane’s work at her website, PlainJaneStudio.) As for me, I have boxes and boxes of early stories and their revisions stacked in my garage, many drafts of a novel take up more space, as do the boxes of notebooks jammed with story-starts and character sketches and nubs of ideas. Who knows if any of them will see the revision pencil again. Maybe they’ll wind up in the recycling bin the next time I move. Or sent out in a flaming boat upon the waters of Seattle’s Green Lake.